Paul Walsh is finding peace at last after years of regret

‘I was a joke, a disgrace, a drunk… I want to say sorry’: Ex-Tottenham and Liverpool striker Paul Walsh is finding peace at last after years of regret, anger and bitterness

  • Paul Walsh says he has found peace after years of anger and regret 
  • The former Tottenham and Liverpool striker has opened up on his struggles 
  • Walsh says he wants to apologise to former Spurs boss Terry Venables  
  • The 58-year-old led a chaotic off-the-field life during his time in north London 

Paul Walsh is walking. Walking slow and talking fast. Six miles, seven miles. It will be 10 by the time he is done. It is a daily routine. It keeps his body fit and his mind fresh.

The theme today was supposed to be football but instead this conversation is about regret and mistakes and anger. But also about a corner turned, a resolve to be better.

So first up, there is an apology.

Paul Walsh says he has turned a corner after years of mistakes, regret and anger

‘I really want you to put this in the paper,’ says Walsh. ‘I want to say sorry to Terry Venables. I should have said it years ago but I was in a different place then. I was ill in my head. I hated my life and hated myself.

‘My behaviour at Tottenham under Terry was unprofessional. I was a joke and a disgrace, a drunk. I left Liverpool as a drunk and arrived at Tottenham as a drunk. I am sorry.’

Walsh stopped drinking five years ago. It was long overdue. Until then his life post-football had been one of deep private unhappiness. An incident at a family get-together persuaded him something must change. Now he attends daily meetings at Alcoholics Anonymous and is a volunteer at the Manor Clinic in Hampshire.

‘It took a single incident to finally make me realise,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t cope post-football. And I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired of life. I was horrible. Bitter, angry, ungrateful, dangerous. So I went in to AA for the first time and that was the start of trying to do things differently. So far it is working.

‘I am a much softer, calmer, nicer bloke. I’m not belligerent and passive-aggressive any more. When you behave a certain way as long as I did, it doesn’t disappear overnight. So I have to work at it. Football is about ego and self-obsession. I had to find a way to let all that go.’

Inevitably there have been some challenges. Some make him laugh. ‘I stopped drinking on May 2, 2016 and went to La Manga in Spain a month later,’ Walsh tells Sportsmail. ‘It was basically 40 ex-footballers on the lash. I walked in and Gary Shaw (former Aston Villa striker) was at the bar. It was, “Walshy! What you having?”.

The striker played for Tottenham between 1988 and 1992 after leaving Liverpool

‘For everyone else it was golf then get on the beer. I basically spent five days dodging people, making excuses. It was torture but luckily I got through it and lived to tell the tale.’

Walsh had a good career at the top level. He played for England five times and after serving his apprenticeship at Charlton, is remembered for being part of David Pleat’s dashing Luton team of the 1980s and subsequent spells at Liverpool, Tottenham, Portsmouth (twice) and Manchester City.

He is not regarded as a failure at any of his old clubs. But in his head it has often felt different. For years into retirement, he was beset by regret, bitterness and sadness. Too many injuries, too many pints, not enough medals. In 2015 he wrote a book and now wishes he had not.

‘I blamed everybody in there apart from myself,’ he says. ‘I see it more clearly now. I was lucky. I achieved things. Sure, I had some injuries but I am hardly the only one am I?’

Walsh may never be exactly at peace with himself. But at the age of 58, he has worked hard to figure it all out. ‘I have analysed my behaviour,’ he says. ‘The fears, the triggers. A lot of fear.

‘Coming out of football I was fearful and I was fearful when I was in football. Football needs mental strength or it kills you. I could overcome fear in the game with mental strength. But I couldn’t do it outside the game. I was scared when I went to City, for example. I knew their fans didn’t want me.

‘But I overcame that by scoring goals and then I was exhilarated. Loved it. That’s how it goes. It wasn’t so easy afterwards.’

Walsh’s tales of his playing days are still told with relish. He would be worth listening to on the after-dinner circuit. But that does not mean he would not do it differently.

Walsh’s time at Liverpool was best by injuries that were managed shambolically

He was signed as a replacement for Kenny Dalglish but had run-ins with the future manger

Above all, his recollections tell of a different age. Life at Liverpool was exhilarating at times but his four years were underwritten by injuries shambolically managed by the club’s archaic medical practices. Liverpool were about to be crowned European champions when he joined in 1984 but did not have a qualified physio.

In his book Walsh describes Liverpool’s medical set-up as ‘inept’ and ‘ignorant’. He has softened now but the stories are extraordinary nevertheless.

In 1985 it took a visit to a club doctor he knew from his days at Luton to diagnose a hernia. A year later an ankle problem went undiagnosed for months, a situation compounded by treatment with an ultrasound machine that was subsequently found to be broken. Then, a short while into his comeback, Walsh broke his hand and was instructed to drive himself to hospital — and home again — with his arm in plaster.

‘Look, I still can’t avoid the fact it was poor,’ Walsh says. ‘It was just Roy Evans or Ronnie Moran with a sponge. But I am trying to look at it through different eyes now and recognise I achieved something. I played for Liverpool. I lived a dream. If you’d offered me that at 15 I’d have bitten your hand off.’

Signed as a replacement for Kenny Dalglish, Walsh found himself playing for the great Scot when he replaced Joe Fagan in the aftermath of the Heysel disaster. It was a strained relationship — Walsh suspected Dalglish still wanted to be in the team — that came to a head in the dressing room at Oxford when manager accused player of not trying. 

‘I won’t justify my reaction that day but I did find it insulting,’ says Walsh. ‘Maybe the circumstances didn’t line up for me. I loved Kenny. I loved watching him play. I loved everything about him. But I had my run-ins and I will apologise now for some of my reactions. Whether he was fair to me or not no longer matters.’

Tottenham was something else altogether, a string of nights out, women and booze occasionally punctuated by football. ‘It’s strange as they still seem to like me at Tottenham,’ he says. ‘They obviously don’t remember that I was s***. But I remember.’

Walsh recalls a chaotic life off the field during his time at Spurs but is still liked by supporters

That Tottenham team was talented. Paul Gascoigne was in his pomp. But off the field it was chaotic. Walsh lived in a hotel for a year. Venables found out and demanded he move out. So he did, to one down the road, sharing a room with the Spaniard Nayim.

‘The discipline had to come from Terry but he was so lax,’ says Walsh. ‘I wish he had read me the riot act. I struggled to behave myself on my own in a hotel. But I would have struggled to behave myself on my own in a house. It’s how I was by then. I used to drink and drive. Disgraceful. Worse for wear at training. Ridiculous.

‘It was all a hangover from what had happened in my last season at Liverpool. I was injured for most of it so I started drinking. But that’s no excuse. The fact is Tottenham was a great opportunity for me and I blew it.’

Walsh has enough Gascoigne stories to fill a well and tells them fondly. His team-mate once brought an ostrich to training. But Walsh also found him exhausting to be around. It was a far cry from the innocence of Luton.

‘Pleaty never shackled me, he just let me play,’ Walsh says. ‘He built that team on zero budget but we all played for England. Me, Ricky Hill, Brian Stein. Fantastic.’

Capped by England before he even got to Liverpool, there was no denying Walsh’s talent. He scored after 14 seconds of his home debut and even though he missed the latter stages of Liverpool’s double season of 1985-86, he was one of only two from the club to make it into the PFA team of the year. ‘Ian Rush and Dalglish didn’t get in,’ Walsh says, matter-of-factly.

The forward says he wishes Tottenham manager Terry Venables had read him the riot act

But when he looks back now —now that he knows himself better — Walsh recognises that a little bit of anger was always there. ‘I operated on the edge of exploding every game,’ he says. ‘People don’t realise the resilience small players need. If I transport myself back to 14 when Charlton were nearly going to release me because I was too small, I see now that I was an angry young man already.

‘That anger was driven by being rejected so many times. I went for an England schools get-together in 1977. We were put in A, B, C, D, E, F teams. I was in the E team and f****** livid. I had to watch other lads play in a game at Wembley. I wasn’t picked. I can’t tell you how I felt.’

If Walsh was angry at 14, then he certainly was by the time a knee injury triggered retirement at the age of 34. Coincidentally, Venables was Portsmouth’s owner by then and there was a wrangle over severance terms.

Out of football, Walsh worked briefly as an agent, invested well in property and became a regular on Sky’s Soccer Saturday. From the outside, life looked OK. On the inside it was not.

‘My ego wanted a fancy job so the outside world could look at me and go, “Look how well he is doing”, he says. ‘But inside I felt s***. I was too egotistical to even think I could be depressed. I just ploughed on and was miserable and made everyone else miserable. I just hated my life and was driving myself insane.

‘I am an emotional baby, basically. Football breeds them. I wanted life my own way and when I couldn’t get it I could get angry and very volatile. I got in some sticky situations. I caused a lot of pain to my own family and I thought alcohol was my solution. When I couldn’t handle something emotionally I would drink my head to sleep.

‘Otherwise when I put my head on the pillow I had a thousand things swimming around my head. I thought it was every-body else’s fault. It was mine.’ 

Walsh was also capped for England and went on to work for Sky Sports after retirement

Happily, Walsh’s relationships remain intact. ‘My friends long-term are still there and I also have a million new friends in the fellowship,’ he says. ‘I am not reborn or religious. It’s just a way of finding a way of managing my head on a daily basis.’

Walsh says he would happily help the FA or PFA mentor young players but by the same token admits he has plenty on already. He has been released by Sky but has come to terms with that, too.

‘I had got in a few scrapes with different bosses so when it came to the changing of the guard through diversity I was always going to be one of the ones in danger,’ he says. ‘Out of all the contracted ones, I was the least valued. So I was the first to go out of that gang. I am OK. I didn’t make the most of it, didn’t always help myself. Typical.

‘I have lost many a situation through thinking I should have been in a better role. Why on earth I thought that, God only knows. It was just my ego. They were never going to happen.

‘So I was occasionally resentful and with me resentment would turn to anger and then I take it out on someone else. It’s self-obsession again. Destructive isn’t it?’

Walsh was once offered the assistant manager role at Macclesfield by his old Luton team-mate David Moss. He turned it down without pause. ‘The old me would have been telling the chairman to f*** off every 20 minutes,’ he says. ‘I wouldn’t have lasted a week.’

The 58-year-old says he can now look back and be proud of his 17-year career

These days Walsh is not short of self-knowledge. ‘Five years ago was the start of unravelling all that warped thinking and to be fair I have loved it,’ he says. ‘I am doing seven AA meetings a week and I may also run a meeting or try to help someone who is struggling. I used to be all grab, grab and take. Hopefully less so now.

‘I have always been lucky but just couldn’t see that because I always wanted more. I am not sure why that was. I always thought more of everything would make me better but it didn’t. I have done OK. I know that now.

‘I have walked 10 miles today. I have had this conversation with you. One of my AA sponsors is about to phone me and I will have an hour with them. I will do some exercises later, do a meeting, have some dinner and that’s me for the day. And when I close my eyes I am proud of my career. It has taken a long time for me to say that.’

Share this article

Source: Read Full Article